June 08, 2011

Why Outsourced and Native shows fail

Outsourced was a workplace comedy about an American running an office in India. As you may recall, I mentioned it in Halloween Comedy on NBC.

Now blogger Monique explains why the show failed. Although her comments are about India's Indians, they also apply to any TV show or movie about American Indians.

Outsourced Weekly:  What went wrong with “Outsourced” pt. 1–Dealing with the premise

First, what the show did wrong:1) Todd and other Western characters had an air of entitlement, while the Indian characters were secondary in an Indian/American comedy; the Western characters were the foreigners needing to learn about Indian society, but the native Indians were treated as sidekicks, or worse, like children needing to be educated in the Western ways.

2) India was treated as a backwater country, whereas America was held on a slightly higher pedestal.

3) The humor of the show–particularly the pilot–was crude to both countries involved. The humor made Americans look like self-absorbed idiots and the Indians look like simple-minded country folk. Neither of which is true.
Second, what the show should've done instead:1) Make sure to eliminate any part of the Western characters that would give the characters that odious air of entitlement. One of way of fixing this, aside from doing through characterization of Todd and co., would be to have more Indian writers on staff.

2) Understand India fully. I touched on this with the suggestion of an Indian bible already. This is where such a book would come in handy for writers, as would that trip. In order to write about a certain group of people and their country, you have to have immersed yourself in it for quite a long time.

3) With the above research suggestions completed, the humor would have come naturally. There’s a bevy of things in both countries to choose from that would make compelling television. Such a rich bounty of harvestable material should have provided scores of ideas.
Comment:  Substitute "the reservation" for "India" in this analysis and it would work for any Native-themed fiction. Kind of ironic that a posting about Indians can teach us about Indians.

You can apply these lessons to countless productions. For instance, failed TV shows such as Off the Map and Running Wilde. Failed movies such as Jonah Hex and The Last Airbender. Without creators who understand Native cultures, these productions inevitably miss the mark. They're about as satisfying as "coffee" made with brown crayons dipped in water.

You can bet that the Natives in upcoming movies--Cowboys and Aliens, The Lone Ranger, Crooked Arrows--will be stereotypical or superficial too. I wouldn't risk a plugged nickel on these ventures. Unless I could bet on their underperforming rather than overperforming. Then I might place a wager.

For more on TV Indians, see Navajo Cops Stereotypes Indians and Colonial Indians in It's Always Sunny.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The other thing is, such shows focus on crazy cultural comparisons that you run out of eventually. Then you start making stuff up. Then the media advocacy groups complain.